The FDA’s three-decades of inaction on antiobiotics took a fresh turn last week when a federal court ruled that government regulators must decide whether feeding antibiotics to healthy livestock could pose a threat to human health.
The FDA has been ignoring the studies and warnings of its own scientists who have linked the rise of antibiotic resistant bacteria and the use of excessive antibiotics in livestock.
Seventy percent of all antibiotics sold in the US are used in CAFOs – healthy livestock are given antibiotics along with their feed to promote faster weight gain. Antibiotics are also used preemptively to manage disease outbreaks as animals are kept in crowded, unsanitary conditions. However, these antibiotics have created superbugs and strains on antibiotic resistant bacteria which are threatening human health. Every year, 70,000 Americans die in U.S. hospitals each year due to a superbug infection.
According to Avinash Kar’s blog for the NRDC: “A huge chunk of the antibiotics used in livestock is comprised of penicillin and tetracyclines, the antibiotics affected by yesterday’s ruling by Judge Katz. All penicillins and tetracyclines together constitute nearly 50% of antibiotic use in livestock. The FDA formally recognized in 1977 that the use of penicillin and most tetracyclines is not shown to be safe and may pose a risk to human health. [At that time the agency] proposed withdrawing approval for the uses of those antibiotics in animal feed. Penicillin and tetracyclines are important human medicines and their use in livestock may also create resistance to other important human medicines. However, FDA caved to industry pressure and proceeded to do nothing to regulate the use of penicillin and tetracyclines in livestock feed for the next 35 years. NRDC and our partners brought a lawsuit last May to force the FDA to act.”
The EU has banned growth-promoting use of antibiotics since 2006 and since then, they have taken serious steps to further reduce the amount of antibiotics in livestock. The ruling last week, therefore, is a huge victory in the thirty-five year battle for safer food in America. However, court proceedings will be needed to decide on a timeline for the FDA to act. If the FDA appeals this decision, final action could be delayed for months, if not years.
The good news is that a few companies are beginning to realize the dangers of antibiotic use in livestock. The most outspoken among these is probably Chipotle, which has made a huge hit with its anti-factory farming ad featuring Willie Nelson.
As a regulatory body that is responsible for safeguarding health, the FDA needs to take more responsibility when it comes to issues like antibiotics or even a BPA-ban. This kind of proactive leadership on important issues seems to be lacking which is exactly why they have been inundated with petitions on numerous, long-standing issues.
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